Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lincoln 1860 Election - William Baumann Green Block

Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 Campaign 

"Woodchopper of the West"

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from 1861 until his assassination in 1865. Lincoln was considered the underdog when he ran for President because he was a newcomer to politics and lacked experience. However, his message was plain and simple: preserve the Union at all costs, even if it meant going to war. He defeated the southern Democratic nominee John C. Breckinridge, the Democratic nominee Stephen A. Douglas, and the Constitutional Union nominee John Bell in the 1860 election because of his effective campaign strategies.

Marcus Cicero, a Roman philosopher, wrote a letter over 2000 years ago to his brother who was running for office. In Cicero’s letter, he told his brother in order to win the election; he must secure the support of his friends and win over the general public. In order to do so, he gave his brother many recommendations ranging from adapting to each person he met by changing his expression and speech when necessary to sticking to vague generalities when describing his agenda. Cicero’s campaign techniques are still being practiced in politics today. Abraham Lincoln’s campaign subconsciously followed Cicero’s advice, resulting in his nomination by an electoral landslide. Stephen A. Douglas, John C. Breckinridge, and John Bell, on the other hand, ran terrible, boring campaigns that lacked the passion and freshness the Lincoln campaign possessed. John C. Breckinridge only gave a handful of speeches. John Bell gave vague speeches that did not offer solutions to the growing resentment between the North and the South. Stephen A. Douglas’ speeches focused more on uniting the fractured Democratic Party than trying to win over Northern votes.

           Abraham Lincoln was fifty-one, a newcomer to national politics and had no political foes when he ran for office. This was Lincoln’s first step in the right direction to win the election. Cicero stated in his letter that the more enemies you make, the less chance you have of winning. Lincoln was skillful in debate. As a self made man, he appealed to common people in the West. Cicero also pointed out that appealing to the hoi polloi greatly benefits the candidate because if voters feel they can connect with the candidate and not feel the candidate is only on the side of the extremely wealthy, they would be more likely to support that candidate. Lincoln himself decided not to write or make any points on specific doctrine lest his opponents distort his remarks. Lincoln greatly benefited from this because Stephen A. Douglas was unable to successfully attack Lincoln on any of his policies.

In the 1860 election, Abraham Lincoln’s most valuable campaign technique was candidate image. Lincoln appealed to many different voters, especially the common man. One day, a news reporter went to Lincoln’s home in Illinois and reported what he saw as a “magnificent spectacle.” The reporter wrote, “There stood Honest Old Abe in his shirt sleeves, a pair of leather home-made suspenders holding up a pair of home-made pantaloons, the seat of which was neatly patched. ” This reporter portrayed Lincoln as a true American. Lincoln was also a rail-splitter, and this helped to promote his image as a tough American who could take on the challenge of preserving the Union.

One of the many reasons Stephen A. Douglas lost to Abraham Lincoln was because of the desperation Douglas showed during his campaign. Douglas was the first presidential candidate in American history to make a nationwide tour in person, an act not traditionally done at the time.  Lincoln, who stayed with campaign tradition, stayed at home in Springfield and received delegates who came to pay their respect. Many newspapers began to notice Douglas’ desperation. The Illinois Gazette even said, “There is Douglas strolling around the country begging for votes like a town constable.” At one point during Douglas’ campaign, he said he was going to New York to visit his mother. However, instead of going straight to New York, Douglas campaigned for weeks heading north to New York, making countless speeches along the way, begging for votes. This act was met with harsh criticism, mainly because campaigning around the country was considered disrespectful at the time. Douglas created many enemies during his political career leading up to the 1860 election, having a detrimental effect on his campaign. Douglas also failed to unite his party, which ended up in two Democrats running for office. This also helped Lincoln achieve victory.

Although modern technology has greatly impacted the way campaigns reach out to voters, Cicero’s key successful campaign elements are constantly being used in American presidential campaigns. Most importantly, Cicero mentioned a candidate must focus on the major issues impacting the people at the time. He must convince the people that he knows exactly how to get out of whatever mess the country is in a way that will benefit the nation as a whole. When the country is doing well economically, the leader has to convince the people that he can continue the forward movement of prosperity. If the time in that nation’s history is one of great suffering, the candidate must convince the people that he can pull them out from suffering and into prosperity. Lastly, a successful candidate has to appeal to a broad range of people because many people tend to elect the man who they can trust as someone who will bring of prosperity and safety.

In the end, Lincoln’s simple message of preserving the Union backed up by his extremely effective candidate image resulted in his victory. In his acceptance speech, Lincoln said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free." Lincoln won by more than 450,000 votes over the second place candidate, Stephen A. Douglas.


Boller, Paul F., Jr. Presidential Campaigns. New York City, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Woolley, John, and Gerhard Peters. "Election of 1860." In American Presidency 
Project. Last modified 1999. Accessed October 9, 2012.

American Government, s.v. "1860 Republican Party campaign banner," Image, Library of Congress, accessed October 10, 2012.

American Government, s.v. "Abraham Lincoln," accessed October 10, 2012.

American Government, s.v. "Abraham Lincoln," Image, Library of Congress, accessed October 10, 2012.


  1. Great Post, Will! A lot of the things that you pointed out connect to the Obama campaign, which I studied. Like Lincoln, Obama was a relatively young candidate who gained a lot of support throughout his campaign. Both candidates developed a successful image that appealed to voters, Lincoln as and honest and self-made man, and Obama as a youthful and inspiring candidate. While Lincoln structured his campaign on preserving the nation, and Obama preached change and moving forward throughout his, both candidates gave voters a promising outlook for the future if elected president.

  2. Good post William, I like that you included some of the customs of the era and the in-depth look into the life of Lincoln. Like Ricky said, I agree that the Obama campaign shared many similarities to Lincoln in 1860, coming from being little known to the big stage at a young age and lacking enemies.

  3. Very good post, Will. It is interesting that, similar to Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant used his image as guardian of the union and preserver of democracy to gain supporters. Another thing that intrigued me while reading was how active Lincoln was in his pursuit of the presidency compared to Grant, who was not as excited about his campaign. Lincoln actively boasted his everyman image and dream of unity, while Grant let his campaign show off his success during the Civil War as leader of the Union Army. Also, I did not realize that Lincoln lacked experience and was an underdog in the election, that was interesting.

  4. I agree, Ricky. Both Lincoln and Obama were quite unknown at the start of the election. However, with the help developing a strong image and running on a simple yet convincing message, they were both able to sweep the elections. However, do you think Obama has used the same campaign techniques in this current election than he did when he ran in 2008?

  5. Another connection that I noticed between the Lincoln campaign and the Obama campaign was that neither candidate really had much to be criticized for. Both were relatively young and inexperienced, and did not seem to be attacked very much by the press or even opposing candidates. Obama's main Democratic rival, Hilary Clinton, seemed to be attacked more then Obama, who had a relatively easy time facing the press in the 2008 election. I think that this is an interesting campaigning concept, which is to campaign just enough to win. Have a clear message that you are confident in, but if you are seen as an underdog for long enough early on, the chances of being attacked by your opposition is lower. Then when the campaign nears a close is the time to go all out.